When we decide to finally take the decision to live in another country, we are naturally nervous. Will we be accepted? How do we fit in? What problems and pitfalls do we need to look out for?
In my experience as a full-time Expat, the majority of us don’t take time to consider the consequences that their presence causes. How do we impact the locals and the local economy?
How we change the scene is usually more profound and noticeable in smaller communities than in the big cities. But don’t kid yourself, the impact is still there. Now let’s get to some specifics.Homes. Costs are something we directly effect, even if we are not aware of it. One prime example is real estate. Retirees and the well off come to buy their final or dream homes, which are often in gated communities or beach-front condos. These are usually financially out of reach for most locals. To make matters worse, high-end homes drive up real estate prices. When a flood of Expats descend on a particular area, locals often find they can’t buy new homes for themselves or their children. This can naturally cause frustration and even anger, whether it’s expressed openly or not.
Services. As the Expat population grows so does the demand for services. Basic economics says that buying food, using electricity, water and gasoline will increase the stress on supply. Provider rates will go up, and therefore, so does the cost of living. Increased demand often leads to shortages for everyone.
Status Quo. We Expats tend to expect increased transparency and organization than what has existed before. This is especially true in sectors like buying and selling real estate, legal contracts of all types, health care and coordinating and reporting between government agencies at all levels. These “modernizations” can confuse locals, especially the elderly. The systems for “doing things the way they have always been done” can’t help but change. This is not necessarily bad, but it may not be appreciated.
Cultural Interaction. Expats, especially new ones, tend to seek other like-minded foreigners for a variety of reasons. Many don’t make the effort to learn the local language. If we segregate ourselves from our neighbors in these ways, it can raise the prejudice factor – fair or not. Non interaction can sometimes put subtle pressure on our neighbors to make initial contact. This often leads to embarrassment, fear and sometimes jealousy. Why should the locals need to feel like outsiders in their own country? Are we really better than them?
Crime. Like it or not, true or not true, Expats are more often than not perceived as being rich. (Often that’s true. For example, in Panama where I live, an excellent monthly wage is $600 to $800 for a 45-hour work week.) Locals see us living in $500,000 homes and driving new, luxury-brand vehicles. We over tip in public. It’s no surprise that break-ins, pick pocketing and other small crimes follow the money. Just because we Expats are prime targets, that doesn’t mean that a robber will feel guilty about breaking in to a local’s house or business while in the neighborhood as well.
Jobs. It’s not uncommon for Expats to seek higher-quality services than the locals can or will provide. If you check Expat chat boards, you will always see requests for foreign carpenters, plumbers, baby sitters and more. Though perhaps it’s not illegal (in some countries it is), this still taking work from nationals. Resentment is understandable since they have to feed their families too.
Children. Your children may go to private schools, but they will still interact with locals on the streets, at parties, playgrounds – anyplace where the younger set congregates. This can lead to local kids wanting to assimilate foreign ideas and customs. These unasked for changes may not always be welcome by local parents who want their kids to fit in with their native society.
As you can probably imagine, the impact list goes on. What’s important is that you are not too demanding and that you open your eyes and heart when living in another culture. This lowers the risk of problems and allows you live a happier lifestyle as well.
Dennis Smith is a journalist, copywriter & editor, business planning consultant and Expat living consultant & speaker. He is also the author of “Panama City, Panama – Come Play in the Miami of Latin America”. He lives in Panama. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.